Physicians use a wide range of diagnostic techniques and technologies to diagnose medical conditions including headaches and migraines, both of which can adversely affect the quality of life among patients. Two of these diagnostic technologies are the EEG and MRI, both of which are used to “see into the body” and, in the process, determine any abnormalities in its structure.
An electroencephalogram (EEG) is a test wherein the brain’s electrical signals are recorded. The brain’s electrical activity is detected by sensors (i.e., electrodes) placed on your scalp, the signals of which are then transmitted into a polygraph for recording purposes.
While an EEG is not part of a standard headache diagnostic procedure, it is performed to rule out or to look for evidence of seizures. This is because seizures have symptoms similar to headaches and seizures can also be accompanied by headaches. The brain may have a malfunction that causes either of the two medical conditions.
Before an EEG, be sure to discuss medications with your doctor since drugs can affect your brain’s activity. Be sure to wash your hair before the test preferably at night but avoid using hair products like cream, oils and spray.
The process itself is harmless and painless. You will lie down on the examining table in your everyday clothes while a technician attaches 20 electrodes or so to your scalp. You will be asked to relax, open and close your eyes, breathe deeply and rapidly, and stare at a flashing light, all of which produce different brain-wave patterns.
You can immediately go home after the procedure unless otherwise recommended by your doctor. Tip: Use nail polish remover to completely remove the glue used in attaching the electrodes to your scalp.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is an advanced diagnostic tool – it provides detailed information about the brain’s structure and biochemistry in real time. Its very clear images are produced with the combination of a sophisticated computer, a large magnet, and radio waves.
Your doctor will most likely recommend an MRI when you are suffering from daily or almost-daily headaches. You may also undergo the process when your CT scan produced non-definitive results or when your physician determined that certain parts of your body (e.g., spine near the neck and the brain’s back portion) must be examined for abnormalities; CT scans are unreliable in these areas.
Keep in mind that an MRI is not used to diagnose migraines and headaches particularly cluster and tension headaches. Instead, it is used in ruling out other medical conditions that may be causing the headaches – brain tumor, abscess, hydrocephalus, herniated disc, undetected stroke, and physical trauma, among others.
Like an EEG exam, an MRI procedure is as safe as can be provided that appropriate safety guidelines are followed. For example, individuals with certain appliances like pacemaker, cerebral aneurysm clip, and TENS device as well as certain diseases like severe lung disease, gastroesophageal reflux disease, and claustrophobia cannot undergo MRI exams.
You may ask for mild sedation just so you can feel relaxed during the 40 to 80 minutes of the exam. Be sure to remove personal items lie watch, jewelry, credit cards and wallet during the exam as the strong magnets can affect their functionality or the results will be affected by them.